A New Report on Scratch Cooking in NYC Schools, Plus More Kid/Food News

As promised earlier this week, here’s a quick round-up of some noteworthy kid/food developments that took place while I was on my East Coast Kid Food book tour.  At the end of this post, I also share news of an upcoming food labeling tweet chat, and a quick action you can take to urge a major restaurant chain to improve its children’s menus.

How Hard Is It to Switch from Highly Processed to Scratch-Cooked School Meals?

Hard . . . but not impossible!

That’s my four-word summary of an important new report released last week by the Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Cooking Outside the Box: How a Scratch Cooking Pilot in the Bronx is Reshaping Meals In New York City Schools offers a detailed look at a scratch-cooking pilot that took place during the 2018-19 school year in several Bronx public schools. The effort was led by the city’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services in partnership with Brigaid, the for-profit school food consulting company founded by Chef Dan Giusti.

Cooking Outside the Box has much good news to share. Not only did the switch to scratch cooking improve the quality and tastiness of students’ meals, teachers started to regularly eat lunch with their students, school food workers took greater pride in their work; and teachers and principals reported fewer discipline problems and decreased food waste.

But the transition also required considerable effort, commitment, and extra funding—including, in the words of the report: “complex systems change,” “political will from the top, creativity from external partners, and buy-in from many . . . departments and school community members,” and “a serious investment in kitchen infrastructure, staff training and advancement, coordination of internal and external stakeholders, and promoting school meals in partnership with community partners.”

While the report is at times New York City-specific, Cooking Outside the Box ultimately offers a valuable road map for any district seeking to establish or expand a scratch-cooked school meal program. (More on Heated.)

Before and after.  [Photo source: University of Chile’s Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, via Bloomberg Philanthropies]

Chile Succeeds in Reducing Child-Targeted Food Packaging

If you’ve read Kid Food, you know I hold up Chile as a national model for passing regulations in 2016 that effectively ban the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children.

So I was pleased to learn of a new study from the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health finding that the Chilean legislation is indeed having the desired effect: before 2016, 43 percent of cereals exceeding the law’s nutrition thresholds used child-directed marketing on their packaging. Today, that figure has dropped to 15 percent.

Reduced Obesity for Children Participating in WIC 

We already had evidence that recent changes to the WIC food package (including new subsidies for fruit, vegetables and whole grains) were having a positive effect on parents’ purchasing behavior. Now the CDC has announced more good news: a decline in obesity among children enrolled in the program. More here, on Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog.

What Students Have to Say About Lunch-Shaming 

Last month, the New York Times asked students around the country to respond to various writing prompts, one of which was, “Should Students Be Punished for Not Having Lunch Money?”  You can read their sometimes surprising answers here.

Why Some Schools Are Reversing Their Chocolate Milk Bans

Education Week has an interesting piece on the endless “tug-o-war over chocolate milk” in schools.

Urban Schools Are Doing a Subpar Job Providing Nutrition Education

That’s the finding of new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). But even schools doing a better job typically only provide about 5 hours of nutrition education a year. More here from UPI.

Upcoming Tweet Chat About Food Labeling

As a former Big Food marketing lawyer, I devoted a chapter in Kid Food to helping parents decode the many legal-but-misleading claims that give food products an undeserved health halo. So I was glad to learn that MomsRising and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) will be focusing entirely on food labeling in this Friday’s tweet chat. Just follow the hashtag #FoodFri starting at 1pm Eastern Time to participate.

Photo source: CSPI

Tell Denny’s To Stop Pushing Sugary Drinks on Kids

CSPI has also done invaluable work in getting many major restaurant chains to improve their kids’ menu beverage offerings. But Denny’s, one of the country’s largest chains, not only continues to offer  kids soda and other sugary drinks on its children’s menu, it makes those unhealthy beverages especially enticing through the use of cartoon characters on its cups.

If you’d like to tell Denny’s to knock it off, CSPI has a letter you can sign here.


  • “A blueprint for how to raise healthy eaters in a fast-food culture”New York Times
  • “One of the Best Books of 2019 (So Far)”Real Simple 
  • “Everyone who has children should read Kid Food. And everyone who doesn’t should read it, too.” — Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation.  

Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World. For more information, visit bettinasiegel.com. 

Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2019 Bettina Elias Siegel

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